The Disadvantages of Observational Learning

Learning by observation requires attention from the student.

Observational learning, also known as Social Learning Theory, describes the process that occurs when the learner sees a behavior demonstrated by a role model as well as the consequence of the same behavior. Parents and older family members often serve as role models just as television and video game characters do as well. There are clear disadvantages to this kind of learning. Although Observational Learning occurs naturally in social settings, not all outcomes related to it are advantageous.

1 Poor Role Models Demonstrate Poor Behavior

While observational learning is effective in teaching positive new behaviors, it may also encourage the adoption of previously forbidden behavior. During the 90s psychologists made a startling statement based on Albert Bandura’s theories that children learned to behave aggressively after witnessing violent acts performed by adults or older children, specifically family members. For example, children who witness a parent’s abusive behavior are at a higher risk of becoming abusive themselves.

2 Undesirable Models May Reinforce Behavior

In many cases, television is a source of behavior modeling. Many forms of both adult and child entertainment involve some type of behavior and portray this as socially acceptable and even desirable. This type of exposure has been shown to precipitate aggressive behavior in those who observe it regularly. For example, one study stated that homicide rates increased after media events like televised heavyweight championships. A second study found that children who watched a higher than average amount of television were almost 49 percent more likely to become violent criminals.

3 Evidence of Learning is Not Always Visible

Albert Bandura pioneered the study of observational learning. During the 20th century, he refined a description of the learning process, which required learners to observe certain behaviors, remember the action, and have the opportunity to model the behavior. However, recent experts argue that learning occurs after observation of certain behaviors and their consequences despite the fact that learners may not physically repeat the same behavior for some time.

4 Observational Learning Requires Motivation

Learners are more motivated to repeat behaviors they enjoy and are capable of performing successfully. Observational Learning Theory lacks consideration of other important factors in learning. The Social Learning Theory generally ignores an individual’s physical and psychological limitations. Inherited conditions may affect how learners react to an act, as well as their ability to retain and repeat certain behaviors.

Valerie Taylor holds a master's degree in ancient history and a bachelor's degree in education and literature. She coauthored an article on Spartan religion for the "Journal of Sparta" in 2010 and has written numerous, history-related articles for Internet publication. Taylor enjoys hiking, gardening and running half-marathons.